On March 29, 2010, nationally renowned anti-gay activists Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council (FRC), and Harry Jackson, Bishop of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D. C., were guest speakers at a rally hosted by the Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee.
The event, dubbed “Stand for the Family: A Rally to Celebrate & Promote the Traditional Family”, was sponsored by the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) and held in the expansive Fellowship Hall of the 7,000-seat Memphis-area mega-church.
For this blog posting, I will not spend an inordinate amount of time quoting the words of Perkins and Jackson (plug: they co-authored a book you could buy at the rally for $20). What I will mention, however, is the local dynamics of the rally.
The first thing that caught my attention was evidence of political campaigning in the lobby of the church. I was surrounded by people wearing stickers from several candidates including:
Charlotte Bergman – Congress TN-09
Paul Boyd – Probate Court Clerk
Dale Lane – Shelby County Sherriff
Bobby Simmons – Shelby County Sherriff
Terry Roland – Shelby County Commission
Mike Carpenter – Shelby County Commission
Chris Thomas – Shelby County Commission
A couple of the campaigns were passing out literature. Isn’t this illegal?
Also in the lobby, booths from FACT, FRC, and Bott Radio Network were chock full of eager staff and slick propaganda. Brochures that caught my eye were: “Homosexuality Is Not A Civil Right” and “Homosexuality in Your Child’s School”. One of my favorite quotes of the evening came from an elderly man telling one of the staff at the FRC booth, “There can’t be a ton of homosexuals running around, can there?”
My guesstimate is that 500 attended the Monday evening event. Regarding the demographics of the crowd, about 95% were white, with the vast majority between the ages of 50 and 70. There was an even split between male and female.
After prayers and patriotic hymns, a welcome by the host pastor Dr. Steve Gaines and statements from Kyle Rote, Jr. (who you may remember as host of the local TV show “Knowledge Bowl”), David Fowler, President of FACT, took the stage.
Long story, short, the former Tennessee General Assembly Senator lacked inspiration – a constant throughout the 2-hour rally. Of note, however, Fowler mentioned that 65 local ministers attended a Memphis FRC luncheon earlier in the day. He also said A. R. Williams, pastor of the local, notoriously anti-gay mega-church, World Overcomers, could not make the rally. However, over 30 ministers were present.
Those 30 ministers were welcomed to the front where the congregations prayed for their success. Note, all but 2 or 3 were white. Also, all elected officials were asked to the front where, like the ministers, the congregation prayed for their souls. Like the ministers, too, almost all of the elected officials (approximately 10) were white.
After Fowler mercifully ended his speech, he introduced Bishop Harry Jackson. Now, finally, I thought the fireworks would begin.
Bishop Harry Jackson
Like I said earlier, I will not take up space on this page quoting much of the speeches of Jackson or Perkins. So, I think this sums up Jackson’s speech:
Racism, bad. Homosexuals, bad. Thus, racism is the reason we are losing the war against the homosexuals.
Jackson did give a shout out to the “rally across town” (the pro-equality rally at Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church sponsored by the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center). He asked the crowd if they knew such a counter rally was taking place. A few in the crowd nodded with acknowledgement.
His point of mentioning the MGLCC rally was the standard “love the sinner, hate the sin” drivel. He said participants at the other rally would be “calling you hypocrites”, but we at Bellevue “have to show people we don’t hate” and, like the billboard says, “Bellevue Loves Memphis”. Yeah, I know.
Ok. So, Bishop Jackson didn’t knock it out of the park. Surely, Tony Perkins would.
Perkin’s message focused on the perils of the recently enacted Federal Hate Crimes legislation, ENDA, and the DADT Repeal. In summary:
>Federal Hate Crimes legislation is bad and will result in the arrest of preachers. Arrests have occurred in other countries and, in time, will happen here. Lie.
>The DADT Repeal will imperil national security. Only 25 countries, and none of the 10 largest militaries, allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. Lie.
>ENDA – the “cross dresser’s bill” (his words). Churches are not exempt and will be “forced to hire cross dressers and homosexuals”. Lie.
Out of Perkins’ ramble came this interesting quote: “The opposition thinks we are defeated and we will pack up and leave – run up the white flag.” I think this is a telling quote. Based on the lack of crowd enthusiasm, the older age of those at the rally, negligible African American attendance, and Perkins desperate lies, I came away with the following sentiment:
Is this the best they can throw at us?
Blatant lies, the tired “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra, low voter turnout, and blaming racism for why the religious fringe is losing the battle against LGBT equality. That’s it?
If this is all they have left, we will beat them hands down. They know they are defeated. They know the better team won. They know they are on the wrong side of history.
After Perkins’ speech, Fowler returned to the stage for a mercifully quick closer. He urged people to register to vote and sign up for his action alerts. He quickly mentioned the Nashville and Memphis Non-Discrimination legislation, but mentioned no other local or statewide issue.
Overall, from someone who was expecting a Fred Phelps-type of batshit crazy theatrics and vitriol, this rally was a big disappointment. However, maybe that was the way it needed to be played in front of this white, conservative crowd – boring, safe, and with the occasional “cross-dresser” phrase thrown in just when the speaker sees people falling asleep.
However, like I said, they know they are on the wrong side of history and, if this is all they have left to throw at us, they may win some battles, but we will soon win the war.